Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

A week on from the Wellington Square sit in

Representatives of the Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) Encampments have described increased aggression from members of the public following Thursday’s altercation with police.

Following the protest at Wellington Square on May 23rd where 16 students were arrested, two of the banners hung on the railings outside OA4P’s Radcliffe Camera Encampment have been sprayed with blue paint. 

Speaking to The Oxford Student, Kendall Gardner described the incident as “horrible”, stating that “a man ripped off one of our banners and a Jewish member of our community chased after him”. 

She explained that the camp member followed the man into Jericho Coffee Traders where he “hurled the Jewish community member to the floor.” 

The next day, the man returned with another individual and “sprayed the banners with blue paint and also sprayed a member of the public’s face”.

This comes after protestors orchestrated a sit-in in a part of the first floor of the University offices in Wellington Square last Thursday. 16 students were arrested in the building but other protestors blocked the exits of the building as well as the roads out of the square. Protestors reported that police had physically pushed through them which led to injuries among some protestors. 

This came after escalation on the part of OA4P involving significantly more violent imagery than has previously been seen. On the 8th May, a group of protestors painted their hands blood-red for a rally outside the Sheldonian. 10 days later protestors staged a die-in, attempting to disrupt graduations by wearing shirts with painted red hand prints. 

OA4P representatives attributed the rise in aggression towards the camp to“irresponsible and reckless messaging coming out of the Vice-Chancellor’s office about our encampment and what the encampment represents”. Gardner expressed the view that “statements from the Vice Chancellor’s office that suggest we are violent or threatening [are] putting us directly in harm’s way. Those types of statements are the ones that these people reference when they attack us.”

In an email sent to all students and staff, the University accused OA4P of “engaging in violent action designed to escalate tensions.” and stated that members of the University have “ reported significant disruption and feeling intimidated.”

Positing an alternative factor in the increased tensions towards the camp, Gardner explained that the “wide base of support from within the Oxford University community” demonstrated on Thursday, may have scared “members of the community who were already hostile towards our camp”, arguing that “they come to lash out at us because they don’t want to grapple with the fact that we are the ones who are on the right side.” 

On the universities’ accusations of creating a hostile space for those who do not agree with camp The Oxford Student asked OA4P about a sign one of the tents on the outer boundary of the camp outside the radcliffe camera a cardboard sign which reads: Qui sème la Hagra récolte l’Intifada. This can be translated as “Those who sow injustice reap the intifada/uprising”. 

OA4P has stringently denied that the sign was intended to suggest a connection to October the 7th, stating that intifada is “the Arabic translation of the phrase “shaking off” and is used in the context of anti-colonial uprising… it relates to a history of anti-colonial resistance, not specifically to October 7th.” They went on to describe how “October 7th cannot be viewed as a singular event but instead as part of a structure of colonial violence that has been ongoing in Palestine since before 1948. The term intifada belongs to a specific anti-colonial context, and we invoke it to support the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation”, finally affirming that there “is no relationship between the use of this term and the physical safety of students at Oxford”. 

The use of language by similar protests has come under criticism for potential anti-semitic undertones, that by using the chant: “Resistance is Justified when People are occupied” following the October 7th attack, they could be seen to legitimise the actions of Hamas on the basis of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.   Recently posters have been put up around Oxford which read “Say no To Intifada” and “By any means?”, the latter links to a New York Times Article about the use of Sexual Violence on October 7th. This article has been criticised by some, including calls from a group of journalism professors asking the New York Times to review the report.

When asked about the  University’s safeguarding responsibilities towards its students and staff, Gardner expressed dismay at the insistence by the university that “the camp is not a student movement” a statement she described as “completely false”, arguing that “the University is failing and their safeguarding responsibilities.” Gardner identified herself as an Oxford tutor and described to The Oxford Student how she has been tutoring students within the encampment. 

Further accusing the university of dismissing the dangers facing the camp, Gardner said of the university:“They’ve said nothing about the knife attack that occurred last week. They’ve said nothing about the violent man who jumped out a van and… threw a community member to the ground. They’ve said nothing about the most recent, violent attack on the Radcamp [The Encampment Outside the Radcliffe Camera]…All they’ve done is condemn us and say that we are the violent ones”

Thursday’s email concluded with the following statement: “There is no place in our community for the threatening and violent actions of some of the protesters. This is not how dialogue should be conducted within our university. We are better than this and we do not have to follow others’ playbooks. As we have said many times since the conflict arose, we lead by example and there is no place for intolerance at Oxford. We must teach our students how to disagree well and with respect and courtesy and through our many formal and informal channels. This is not how to do it.”

A further email was sent by the university on the 28th of May which struck a very different tone. In this the university explained that they “have spent the days since listening and talking to our community.” Going on to state that they “want to ensure that our students and colleagues get the support they need. None of us want to see the police have to intervene in this way.”  This difference in tone follows open letters condemning the Principles of St Annes and Hertford College for putting their names to Thursday’s email.

Also a signatory of the email was The Master of Balliol College, Dame Helen Ghosh. The Oxford Student has been informed that, following a complaint by a student, Ghosh sent a college wide email to explain that her name, along with those of Tom Fletcher and Helen King, had been added automatically and that she had not “sign[ed] the statement in a personal capacity, or in any way [on] behalf of Balliol College.”

JCR representatives from Balliol, St Anne’s, and Hertford have been meeting in the past few days with their respective heads of houses regarding their involvement in the Vice-Chancellor’s open letter. The St Anne’s JCR President commented that she had met with Helen King to “raise the concerns the JCR had regarding her response”, and to “hear her perspective”. “The outcome of this discussion was the mutual decision to propose to hold a meeting with the JCR to create a more open dialogue and allow people to voice their concerns and questions, and encourage listening from both sides”, which will be taking place this Sunday for students of St Anne’s only.

The University did not reply to The Oxford Student’s request for comment.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys